A judge will hear arguments next week on whether Arizona voters get to decide if they want to scrap the current system of partisan primaries.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain will consider claims by foes of the open primary initiative that it unconstitutionally asks voters to make disparate changes in the law with a single vote. Attorney Mike Liburdi said the measure essentially forces voters to accept or reject, on an all-or-nothing basis, altering everything from how candidates are nominated to who qualifies for public funding.
He estimated the number of statutory changes this one ballot measure would mandate at more than 70.
Attorney Kim Demarchi who represents initiative backers, did not dispute that contention. But she said it's legally irrelevant.
If you're trying to get to one purpose, and everything you're doing is pushing toward that one purpose, even if it's complicated, even if it's multifaceted, that's fine, that's a single subject,'' she said, citing prior rulings of the Arizona Supreme Court. Demarchi said the justices have, in essence said that they're not going to "deny (voters) complicated solutions to modern problems.''
Hanging in the balance is a major change in how state elections have been conducted since the first days of statehood.
Right now, each party selects its own candidates for statewide and legislative office, usually through a primary. Then voters get to choose among the contenders in the general election.
This proposal would put everyone seeking each office in a single primary. While candidates could list their party affiliations, that would be only for identification.
The top two vote-getters then would face off in the general election, even if it turns out that both are from the same party.
That is generally similar to the way most cities already elect their mayors and council members, albeit without the party identification. Tucson, the lone city to still conduct partisan primaries, would lose that right if the measure is approved, with the change also affecting the currently partisan statewide, legislative and county supervisor races.
Foes of the initiative, led largely by those involved with the state Republican Party, are trying to head off that possibility by keeping voters from even considering the measure. They hope to convince Brain that the multiple statutory changes the initiative would require make it impermissible to put on the ballot.
Liburdi also said there are legal flaws in the 100-word descriptive statement that is required on all initiative petitions.
Jaime Molera, a lobbyist and former GOP candidate for statewide office, said he hopes to kill the initiative because it would harm what he says is a functioning political system where voters know the affiliation of candidates.
"You have now a system that clearly outlines the two major political views of this country, of this state," he said.
"It gives people a very good choice of what that vision is of how do we run government,'' Molera continued. "This will blow this up.''
Whatever Brain decides is probably not going to be the last word. Whichever side loses is virtually certain to seek review by the Arizona Supreme Court.